As the world slowly recovers and returns to flying, Etihad Airways’ priority is to strengthen their offering of safety, security and service, while they revive the confidence in international travel via initiatives that aim to ease the burden for travellers. The airline is very keen to ensure that passengers have a peaceful journey, one that prioritises their health and wellbeing. Neerja Bhatia, Vice President, Indian Sub-Continent, Etihad Airways in this interaction with TTJ tells that they are focused on what lies ahead and being nimble they are well adapting to the dynamic nature of the industry that they are in.
– Prashant Nayak
Q. How is the recovery of your network progressing?
We retain a pragmatic approach to network planning and our strategy remains. The work we have done over the last three years of transformation has positioned the business well. Our network strategies are central to that and as a result, we remained nimble and were able to quickly respond to meet the COVID-19 crisis, as well as fit for business moving forward.
As borders re-open, we are looking at supporting demand by gradually resuming services and expanding our global network, in line with entry and health regulations set by UAE authorities and those at the end destination.
As the national airline of the UAE, we have the advantage of the fact that two-thirds of the world’s human footprint is within a six-hour flight of Abu Dhabi. We are currently operating to 60 worldwide destinations across Europe, Middle East & Africa, North America, Asia & Australia, as well as the Indian sub-continent.
Q. In the fight for survival, what are the current issues your airline is putting more emphasis on?
Etihad will continue its transformation into a mid-sized, full-service carrier concentrating on its fleet of wide-body aircraft, with a leaner, flatter and scalable organisational structure that supports organic growth as the world returns to flying.
Last year saw us launch Etihad Wellness, a comprehensive health and hygiene programme, building on the stringent measures already put in place to deal with COVID-19, and which is now a major component of the airline’s long-term customer strategy. The launch of the programme was championed by the introduction of specially trained Wellness Ambassadors, a first in the industry, who provide essential travel health information and care online via webchat, at Abu Dhabi International Airport, and in-flight, so guests can fly with greater peace of mind.
The global response to many aspects of the programme, including the game-changing Wellness Ambassadors and wide-ranging travel health and hygiene protocols, has been overwhelmingly positive. The airline is taking the opportunity to develop Etihad Wellness as a key differentiator for customers when purchasing a premium product that can guarantee them genuine care and effective health and safety measures, and deliver a world-leading service and hospitality offering.
Q. With travellers fearing to fly in the present scenario, what can be done to improve aviation credentials? Do you remain optimistic about aviation’s long-term future?
Travelling internationally in a post-pandemic world is a different experience and we fully understand any apprehensions guests may have. The team at Etihad has gone above and beyond to ensure we prioritise the health and wellness of our guests and employees. In February this year, Etihad became the first airline in the world with 100 per cent of its operating pilots and cabin crew vaccinated.
We launched ‘Etihad Wellness’ last year, an expanded and comprehensive health and hygiene programme that builds on the stringent measures already put in place by the airline to deal with COVID-19. This was championed by the introduction of specially trained Etihad Wellness Ambassadors, yet another industry-first initiative by us. Present on every flight, on ground at Abu Dhabi International Airport and available 24/7 via live webchat, this specially trained team is here to provide essential travel health information and care so guests can fly with greater peace of mind.
If any guest is diagnosed with COVID-19 during their trip, they won’t have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs when they fly with Etihad. The insurance is automatically effective from the first flight outside the guest’s home country and is valid for 31 days, or upon return to their home country if earlier. More importantly, Etihad remains the first and only airline in the world that requires 100 per cent of its passengers to show a negative PCR test before departure and on arrival in Abu Dhabi. We want to ensure travellers feel safe knowing every other guest flying with us has tested negative for COVID-19.
All these initiatives have consolidated the airline’s position as an industry leader in its response to the pandemic and in keeping its employees and travellers safe. While businesses and industries across the globe have been hard hit by the pandemic, going forward, I believe our ability to remain nimble and adapt to the most unexpected of circumstances will support us in the long run.
Q. Any development at your organisation or onboard your aircrafts that you would like to share?
Although the past year has been challenging, the impact of this pandemic will not deter our commitment to India, a country that Etihad has been serving for sixteen years now. We are ready to resume operations to key Indian gateways as soon as current travel restrictions are lifted, offering seamless connectivity to and convenient transfers via our home, Abu Dhabi. We are prepared for when international travel from the country gradually resumes, and our top priority remains the safety and wellness of our guests and employees. To that end, we have introduced several measures for guests to travel with greater peace of mind with Etihad.
100 per cent of Etihad’s crew onboard has been vaccinated
In February this year, Etihad became the first airline in the world with all its operating pilots and cabin crew vaccinated to help curb the spread of COVID-19 and give passengers’ added assurance of safety. This has consolidated the airline’s position as an industry leader in its response to the pandemic and in keeping its employees and travellers safe
Validity of Etihad’s global wellness cover has been extended
If any guest is diagnosed with COVID-19 during their trip, they won’t have to worry about medical expenses or quarantine costs when they fly with us. We have introduced a global COVID-19 wellness insurance as part of our health and hygiene programme, Etihad Wellness, which is included with every Etihad ticket up to 31 September 2021.
Tech and digital-first solutions for a seamless journey
There has been an accelerated growth in digitising experiences and ensuring contactless travel for guests, with their safety and wellness in mind. We have been working with a variety of different companies, some within the industry, and some outside of it, to develop the technology required for a global health certification system. Most recently, Etihad has partnered with the International Air Transport Association to launch the IATA Travel Pass for its guests. This offering, currently under trial, will help passengers easily and securely manage their travel in line with government requirements for COVID-19 tests or vaccines.
A dedicated Wellness Ambassador on every flight
Etihad has introduced specially trained Wellness Ambassadors, a first in the industry, to provide essential travel health information and care. They are available 24/7 pre-departure, at Abu Dhabi International Airport and on board every flight to offer reassurance by sharing advice on travel wellbeing and details of the health and sanitisation measures being implemented throughout the guest’s journey.